Protolabs Expands European Presence with Larger German 3D Printing Operations

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Digital manufacturing bureau Protolabs is investing USD$12.87m (£10.5m) into a new German production facility. The funds will expand the company’s 3D printing capacity in Germany by 50 percent, complementing its existing additive manufacturing (AM), CNC machining, sheet metal and injection molding capabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down large swaths production and shipping globally, in turn highlighting the ability of on-demand manufacturing to provide parts locally. Perhaps spurred by this turn of events, the U.S.-based service bureau is opening a new 5,000 square-meter production facility in Putzbrunn, Germany. Construction begins on the site as general public restrictions and distancing measures are eased in the city, with the initial shell scheduled for completion by the end of December and machinery to be installed beginning in May 2021.

Groundbreaking ceremony for Protolabs’ new German 3D printing facility: (l-r) Michael Meier (Protolabs), Edwin Klostermeier (Mayor of Putzbrunn) and Daniel Cohn (Protolabs). Image courtesy of Protolabs.

This equipment will include up to 25 more 3D printers, along with a 5-axis mill for finishing 3D-printed parts, as well as systems for finishing, coloring and painting. By increasing the 3D printing capacity of its German location by 50 percent, the company will be able to augment its European 3D printing services. According to Protolabs, the company can currently produce over 50 3D printed parts in one to seven days, over 200 CNC parts in one to three days, and over 10,000 injection molded parts in one to fifteen days.

Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing at Protolabs. (Image courtesy of Protolabs.)

The project comes on the heels of a USD$6.13m (£5m) extension being finalized at Protolabs’ European Headquarters in Telford in the U.K. The Telford location represented the Minnesota company’s entry into the European continent when it was established in 2005. This was followed, in 2009, by the opening of a location in Japan. In addition to these and several offices in the U.S., Protolabs now has positions in Sweden, Italy and France.

This latest site in Putzbrunn, outside of Munich, will house all of its current departments from its existing Feldkirchen office. The production facility will support the company’s U.K. activity and will include the ability to produce medical devices certified under ISO 13485.

The metal AM service bureau segment is expected to reach $9.4 billion in revenues by 2025, according to the recent “The Market for Metal Additive Manufacturing Services: 2020-2029” report from SmarTech Analysis. The company’s recent “Polymer Additive Manufacturing Markets and Applications 2020-2029” report has additive polymer parts from service bureaus reaching $7.8 billion by the same year.

SmarTech believes metal 3D printing service bureaus in particular can solve the short-term disruptions associated with the pandemic and then aid in production re-shoring to prevent future disruptions. To reflect the changes in the metal AM service bureau segment from the pandemic, the company will be providing updated forecasting in June 2020.

A metal powder bed fusion room at Protolabs. Image courtesy of Protolabs.

Protolabs can definitely see the direction that the market is headed. In 2016, the company began integrating multiple metal powder bed fusion systems from Concept Laser (now GE Additive) into a new 77,000 sq. ft. facility. By 2018, it was one of the first partners in the GE Manufacturing Partner Network and more recently installed over 25 GE Additive Concept Laser Mlab and M2 machines in one of its production facilities. As for polymers, Protolabs has also been an early adopter of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology, which is becoming continuously important for AM service bureaus.

The company is not alone in the segment, however, even when matched against other digital manufacturing providers and service networks that also do not focus solely on AM. While it may still be larger than startups like 3D Hubs and Xometry, it contends with Stratasys Direct Manufacturing and 3D Systems on Demand, who also provide a multitude of manufacturing options. This also doesn’t include the pureplay service bureaus or those owned by much bigger conglomerates. Sculpteo, for instance, is now owned by BASF, the largest chemical company in the world and Siemens owns selective laser melting experts Material Solutions.

Protolabs, then, is in an increasingly competitive industry and, with the benefits of distributed production becoming more and more evident, we can safely say that that industry is only going to increase in its competitiveness.

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